Searching For Debra Winger and Finding Sandra Bullock: An Exercise in Passion
Written by Lisa Montanaro | June 15, 2014

Last week, I watched a movie that’s been on my Netflix queue for awhile called Searching for Debra Winger. It was written and directed by Rosanna Arquette. It’s a documentary that explores how female actresses over 40 years old can’t find good roles in Hollywood. It’s actually a lot deeper than that, but that’s the basic premise.

happiness_is_not_a_goalThe film is essentially a series of interviews with Hollywood actresses, old and young, and their struggles with balancing family, romance, motherhood, aging, and acting. For some of them, they admit that their passion is so deep when it comes to their art—acting—that they can’t give it up even if it means neglecting their family and personal life. Some of the actresses find it sad that they even have to make a choice like that. Others have gladly stepped away from the limelight, and are not actively working, in order to live a more balanced life, enjoy their family, their marriages, and their children.

The actresses ask the question “What is my passion?” over and over. For many of them, their passion was clearly the work—the art, the acting, the film. For some of them, their passion was more about the research and the experience. Art as a way to explore life, if you will.

About three quarters of the way into the movie, we finally are face-to-face with the elusive Debra Winger. I was a huge fan of her work when I was younger. She appeared in so many fabulous movies, such as Urban Cowboy, An Officer and a Gentleman, Terms of Endearment. She graced the screen with her authenticity, spunk and sassiness, youthfulness, promise, and that cool raspy voice. What I didn’t know with that she was struggling behind the scenes. Apparently she loved the research phase, but often didn’t love the actual filming. Part of that was because she refused to fit into the mold of the Hollywood actress that the producers wanted her to fit into. She was often asked to take water retention pills, lose weight, and overall look more the Hollywood starlet. Apparently she was considered quite the little rebel refusing to oblige and getting a reputation for being difficult. I think I now love her even more!

Do-what-you-loveMs. Winger made a decision to leave Hollywood and is now in her 40s. When Rosanna Arquette interviewed her, she asked Debra “What are you passionate about now?” Debra just looked around, raised her hands and said “This. Life. Everything. Anything.” I love that response. She went on to say that she enjoys every day, even the mundane tasks of domestic life. She enjoys her children. She enjoys studying people, having experiences, listening to the train go by, sitting in her garden, loving, etc.

This got me to thinking. Rosanna Arquette set out to get answers to the questions that many Hollywood actresses are facing. She said that she wanted to know why Debra Winger quit Hollywood. She got her answer from Debra’s own mouth. But something tells me that it may not be enough for Rosanna Arquette and other actresses like her. They’re still striving, reaching, trying to play the game, hoping to change it. Whereas Debra has quietly slipped away to go enjoy her life and find her passion elsewhere. I don’t think one is right or one is wrong. They’re just different paths. Ms. Arquette’s path may be to try to change Hollywood and it’s view towards woman. That probably is now her passion more so than acting. Ms. Winger’s passion is not to overturn the status quo, but in living a full life and reinventing herself away from the limelight.

What’s your passion? Are you meant to be a rebel and overturn the status quo somewhere? Do you find passion in everyday things and is that enough for you? Interesting questions… Even if you’re not a female actress in Hollywood.

follow_your_passionCoincidentally, I watched another movie about a week before this one – Gravity. It didn’t really dawn on me at the time that that this movie was somehow related to the next one on my Netflix queue. But now that I’ve watched this documentary about female actresses in Hollywood and how many of them are considered washed up over 40, I couldn’t help noticing that Sandra Bullock, a female actress in her 40s, was the protagonist of Gravity. Ms. Bullock is pretty much in every shot of the movie. She is the central character and portrays an astronaut that doesn’t look like a Hollywood starlet. She pretty much has on no makeup, is a brilliant scientist, and exhibits vulnerability, bravery, empathy, fear, and guts. I realize that this is just one movie, but I’m hoping that Ms. Arquette took notice. She may think she was searching for Debra Winger, but I don’t think so. I think she was really searching for Ms. Bullock in Gravity — a gutsy, beautiful, smart, authentic woman in her 40s as the central character in a critically acclaimed, box office hit of a movie.

Some valuable lessons learned here. Be clear in what you’re searching for in the first place, and know what you’re passionate about. And once you have that clarity, enjoy it. Every little mundane beautiful moment of it.

Meet the Author

Helping others be the best versions of themselves gets me jazzed!

I’ve worn many hats in my lifetime—often at the same time—while enjoying fulfilling careers. I’ve been a performer, teacher, sign language instructor, lawyer, career counselor, law professor, coach, consultant, mediator, entrepreneur, speaker, trainer, writer, and author. 

I’m an eternal optimist and life-long learner, constantly researching ways to improve personal and professional effectiveness. And it brings me great joy to then pass on the results of that persistent curiosity to my clients and audiences. 

Of all the career hats I’ve been privileged to wear, my favorite is owner of this business since 2002. Why? Because it provides me the opportunity to work with wonderful organizational and individual clients. On any given day, I get to connect deeply with audiences, work with dedicated teams, improve workplaces, watch clients have a-ha moments, and know I’ve made a difference in their lives and careers. And that is very satisfying.